Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Agriculture or electricity, for Tasmania?

This discussion (below) is copied from a newsletter a friend of mine writes, called Crikey dot Ken. Ken is always on the ball about issues Tasmanian and especially those relating to the D'Entrecasteaux Channel.

I don't know enough about Tasmanian soil to make a good judgement but I do know that the area being discussed for this irrigation scheme is prone to drought, and that is why it is cheap land, while many parts of Tasmania have excellent rainfall.

I should explain that Tasmania has well established hydro-electric schemes and some new wind farms. It is in an ideal position to make all its own electricity if it manages these well and invests in innovative mini-hydro farms like this one. Its only other option is to pump electricity across Bass Strait from the mainland, at huge cost, which it has started doing, much to the annoyance of customers like me who are seeing their costs double!!

One wonders what is really behind all this; one thing is for sure - it is about money and politics, and not about what is good for the future.

An agricultural bonanza for Tasmania or just a few others?

There is something not quite right with the scheme to bring water for irrigation to the midlands of Tasmania from Arthurs Lake. A motherhood question would be, ‘Are you in favour of an irrigation scheme that would see productive farms producing food that would feed many thousands if not millions of people in Australia and across the world’? This political proposal is to pipe / drain water from Arthurs Lake in the Central Highlands to the lower cost land illustrated in the map to the right. It’s an engineer’s dream job.

image But what are the cons apart from the pros? Arthurs Lake is a good size lake that sits below the much bigger Great Lake of Tasmania. The pros of Arthurs Lake is it has a catchment while the higher, bigger Great Lake has virtually no catchment apart from direct rain and snow. The Great Lake, last ten or twenty years, has been at the best say variable. The level of the Great Lake over the last twenty or more years has been bordering on empty most of that time. Traditionally the method has been to pump the Arthurs Lake water up to the Great Lake in the off peak and then funnel it down via Poatina Power Station which has been believed to produce the most efficient power generated in Tasmania such is the fall of the water. It has six turbines, with a combined generating capacity of 300 MW of electricity. There is a net gain to Tasmania using Arthurs water.

So who are the winners and the losers?

Now we are told Hydro Tasmania are being asked / told to for-go that water from the Arthurs Lake to feed the new Tasmanian Midlands Irrigation Scheme. If there has been modelling as to how much water is required for Irrigation; what is that amount? Does it equate to the water forgone by Hydro Tasmania for electricity generation? If the irrigation authority get it wrong with their estimates being on the low side of irrigation water required, will it be just as easy, or even easier, to take water out of the Great Lake too via Arthurs by reversing the past usual process?

As the Great Lake is likely to experience even lower precipitation and snow in the future will that mean that the most efficient power producer in Tasmania, Poatina, will be idle more times than not for lack of water that is drifting down a pipe line to the midlands to produce food and wool in a much less efficient way than Hydro Tasmania creating good clean electricity that is destined to fetch astronomical prices on future mainland markets. The infrastructure is already there to produce electricity.

The irrigation scheme will cost 100 million dollars for a harder to earn, unknown return This is more a shift of money from the electricity uses of Tasmania to the pockets of a few wealthy investors and some hard working farmers. In hindsight, all will be left is a few trout fishers looking at the mud of Arthurs and the Great Lake much like the older anglers reminisce about the great days of the Shannon Rise. This could be one of the greatest shift of capital from the Tassie battlers to the corporate board room, ever, and that’s saying something.

Thanks Ken for allowing me to put this on my blog.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Wanted: Smiles of comprehension....

I hear it so often and I am sick of it.... "I have a vegetable garden... but... so much gets wasted because I don't get around to eating from it..... Its so convenient to shop at the supermarket....." etc etc etc etc until I want to scream. It is a disease; contagious, malignant, but avoidable.

These people feel distressed, annoyed with themselves and helpless to know how to change. I see it everywhere and hear the same excuses, smell the same car fumes, see the same rushing, rushing, rushing in the main streets but, at the same time, I sense the desire to do it differently, the pleading for a solution.... and now help is at hand!

I am going to give a few talks and run monthly workshops, where I show people how to live and eat from their gardens; where we go into my garden together, find dinner and cook it in minutes, then eat it together. We will laugh and enjoy it. This is my passion and I think I can do it, if only I can inspire them, from the very beginning, to listen with their hearts and minds and learn with me. We will relax, step back and review the way we approach thinking about food and we will have fun doing it. It will definitely be more fun that shopping in a supermarket and so rewarding.

Smiles of comprehension are what I am aiming for and if just one person continues the journey afterwards, I will be happy. Diseases are sometimes persistent and need constant, repeated treatments so I want my garden to be open for therapy.... like a personal trainer, I will be!

Contact me if you'd like to join in.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

'Tis the season to relax

Such a good time was had and sooooo handsome are my boys (Wink) that it has taken me all this time to choose the Christmas photos to put on the blog....

"Food, festivities and fun" was the theme for the Flints, as it was the first time we'd been together for a year. It seemed Hugh was not going to make it, as a thunder storm hit Hobart as his plane was about to land at 5pm on Christmas eve but good old Qantas found a break in the storm, after an hour of circling the skies, and Hugh finally arrived safely.

image On Christmas day chef Hugh produced these delicious prawn cocktails whilst using every dish in the kitchen and calling all hands on deck....

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Meanwhile, Alex quietly and very expertly baked a magnificent nut roast (left back) which every vegetarian should have in their repertoire.

imageWe shared Christmas lunch with old friends, on the lawn, under a pretty market stall gazebo that I just love and am so glad I bought last year.image

If you love leatherwood honey, you may be interested in this photo of the leatherwood trees in flower which I took when we went on the Tahune air walk, a suspended walkway high up in the tree tops, out of Geeveston.

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Then we went on a day trip to Bruny Island, just a few minutes by ferry....

To me, Bruny Island is all about the sea; crystal clear water, brilliant white sand, and views to take your breath away.....

 

 

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...plus berries to gorge on, on pancakes and in glasses, at The Berry Farm.

 

Summer here is soft and green, with the odd hot day for swimming.... and the whole area is laden with fruit. Heaven.

Life is good. Get there fast then take it slow.

 

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

A summer salad for a barefoot gardener

I love bare feet. I love soft, green paths and I love my gentle summer garden in Tasmania.

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By 7pm the heat of the day has diminished, there's a gentle sea breeze and I walk my shaded, clover paths in bare feet, finding salad greens here and there, to fill my basket and my plate. There is even a late raspberry to be found.

So many people have suggested ways I could control the wildness of my paths and keep them clear of weeds and grass and clover but I just nod and say thanks for the advice..... then I just mow them. Clover mows beautifully and never grows too tall when your mowing is late. It is luxuriously soft to walk on and makes me feel very happy, as I work barefoot in my garden this summer.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

A fine tilth to end a fine day

Some people end the day with a beer or a wine or even a home-made limoncello but I ended my day with a fine tilth, and ecstatic I am about it too. There are few things that give me greater pleasure than achieving such a thing, especially after the rugged start the soil had earlier in the day.

Wednesday gardening at my place saw some looks of concern as I described the job for the morning which was to clear out a large strip of garden, totally overgrown with last season's vegetables gone to seed. We could not even see the end of the strip, so high had the flower heads grown, many being 2 metres or more.

Summer in southern Tasmania had turned dry and warm the last couple of weeks (at last!!) and the soil was hard, compacted and full of the wretched thick stems and tough roots associated with plants intent on reproducing. There were fennel, kale, beetroot, red cabbage, celery and parsnip, all particularly robust. I had cringed for weeks, every time I walked past this part of the garden on my way to visiting the chooks, at the thought of launching into tackling the job.

But, I smiled sweetly and made light of the work ahead as I showed the gang what I wanted them to do.... no good backing off now, when I had 4 great women willing to make the attack with me! I headed in first, with shears drawn ready to cut my way through the forest. Following close behind was Lorna, who collected up the debris and threw it over into the chook yard so that Robin could get to the stumps and dig them out. On the other side of the bed Sandra and Ann followed a similar routine with Lorna managing well to keep up with the clearing up.

These seed heads were not left to grow due to laziness on my part but rather to supply friends and seedsavers with seeds to sow. Most of the seed pods were well developed but not yet fully mature so I chose to leave standing 2 or 3 of each variety until I am able to collect the seeds. Some were not worth keeping as they will have crossed with others or because they were not that good a variety in my opinion.

Once cleared, we aerated the soil by pushing in a fork to its full depth then levering up the soil just enough to break the clumps.... no turning involved; much easier on your back and on the soil life below the surface.

Some time later we stood and admired a job well done..... the day moved on and I did not have time to get back to it until much later. Earlier, someone had said the only way I'd get a decent sowing surface was to borrow their tiller but, although I did not say so, I had another option in mind; something as old as farming itself.... so in the meantime I put the sprinkler on for a while so when I did get a chance to do stage 2 the soil had turned from heavy and grey to moist and dark.

All was quiet and peaceful when I returned at 5.30 with my trusty old rake. I placed the rake on the soil and began the rhythmic motion required to rake the surface ready for seed sowing. It was then that I felt that connection I sometimes get with the earth; something innate, ancient and deep. The big clumps of dry dirt from the morning slowly turned to a fine, dark, damp tilth between the tines of my old rake. This soil has a beautiful texture; the best in my whole garden.

As the evening light softened, and the chooks crooned their gentle words to one another behind the fence, I once again thought how much I enjoy working with soil and sowing seeds; how right and good it feels, how purposeful and meaningful it is and how seeds are the basis of all our food, and by sowing them year after year we are sowing the seeds of the future of our own civilisation. Food security, climate change, biodiversity, in fact the health of every living thing on the earth, depends on seeds.

Life is good. Rake a fine tilth and sow some seeds with me.